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Original Issue

Camping Out with All the Conveniences

The vacation season puts wheels under millions of U.S. travelers who contrive to rough it the easy way—by means of campers. Not since the car itself has any device so transformed recreational habits

One of the more remarkable sights a traveler is sure to see during this vacation season is a whacking big motor home to the back of which is affixed a tiny car. Like their counterparts afloat, the cruising boat and its dinghy, come sundown they will find an anchorage and the skipper will row the Volks over to the laundromat and grocery store. This is one aspect of a recreational-vehicle boom that has transformed the travel habits of three million American families, caused campgrounds to sprout in surprising numbers and earned a fat dollar for an industry that was pretty small stuff just a decade ago. Today it is a billion-dollar-a-year manufacturing business, nourished in the simple truth that not every American necessarily wants to rough it when he sets out to gaze at a purple mountain's majesty. The amenities range from the cookstove, refrigerator and tentlike shelter extensions of the smallest pop-up trailers, such as the one above, which can be had for $1,000 or less, to the carpeted spaciousness of self-enclosed motor homes that can run $15,000 and more. In the Robert Handville sampler of camping sites on the following pages you will notice a variety of rigs, all crewed by members of the first American generation to be obsessed by a quaint new concern—that of parking level. The nature of the iceboxes in these campers is to stop working if they are on a slant.

As in the early days of the automobile, small manufacturers have proliferated—production quadrupled between 1961 and 1968—but the nationwide economic slowdown has begun to pinch the marginal companies. For the most efficient ones, business continues to be better than good. Winnebago, an Iowa-based firm, is the largest and has recently been crowing over a 32% rise in sales and earnings for fiscal 1969 over 1968, not to mention record sales for March and April. Dodge's niche as the No. 1 chassis supplier in the motor-home field has given it some cheer in an otherwise grim season. Rent-a-campe enterprises are flourishing. Their wheels, like sites at the better campgrounds, often require advance reservations.

Outdoor purists of the backpack breed view motorized campers as unwelcome intruders in their domains, but they are faced with an irreversible trend. The impulse to escape urban congestion, however briefly; the speed and range of the camper; the freedom from dependence on motels and hotels all conspire to accelerate the camper phenomenon. An increasing number of Northern campgrounds are remaining open into the cold months to serve winter sportsmen. Some ski areas allow overnight stays in their parking lots—no small incentive to the skiing-camping family that has begun to stub its budget on the cost of lodging. Apr√®s skiing suffers somewhat—there are no camper fireplaces as yet—but, ah, how near the lifts are in the morning. And entirely apart from what one might consider normal recreational uses there has developed a new and decidedly American wrinkle—the motor home as retirement home. Winnebago, for example, sells half its motor homes to retired people. Grandfather's farm has shrunk and grown wheels. You don't visit it; it visits you.

At seaside destinations such as these on Cape Cod, one may drive in and enjoy the surroundings with a minimum of formality.

The Grand Teton mountains of Wyoming crown one of the most beautiful, and beautifully conceived, areas for camping in the U.S. Travelers may live in a rustic way, as above, or choose the full-hookup conveniences of Colter Bay Village, a jewel of its kind. Riding and climbing are within easy reach, and somehow the people don't seem to spoil the scenery.

The austere simplicity of California's Borrego Palm Canyon (above) contrasts with the organized goings-on at San Diego's Mission Bay, where fiddles play at barbecues and sails skim the waters.